James “Jim” McGrane, a man who spent his career as a friend and mentor to hundreds of East Boston children over the years, has died.
McGrane died suddenly on Saturday, Feb. 24 in Naples, FL . He was 73 years old.
McGrane dedicated his life to educating children in Eastie for nearly five decades through the Boston Public Schools and was instrumental in not only the success of the former East Boston Camps but also the neighborhood’s substance abuse programs like North Suffolk Mental Health and the Meridian House.
Born on March 8, 1944 McGrane grew up in East Boston with his four brothers, twin brother, John, Thomas, and twin brothers Fred and Fran. He attended Eastie schools and Graduated from Sacred Heart High School and went on to graduate from Salem State College.
He spent most of his teaching career at the former Barnes School before it merged with the Mario Umana Academy. During his time as a teacher McGrane became a mentor and guiding light in the lives of many students who passed through his classroom.
“I’ve been searching my heart to say the right words to describe what a great man Jim was,” said Joseph LoConte. “Those of us who had him as a teacher and were fortunate and blessed to have him as a friend know the kind of gentlemen he was . A teacher and mentor he care about us all. Even after graduating from the Barnes School, he was still teaching us. His involvement in his community led many of us to do the same–to get involved and give back. I would always address him as “Mr. McGrane” no matter how many times he would say. “Joe, it’s Jimmy!” I had too much respect to call him Jimmy even though I was a grow man. The world is a lot colder today.”
Peggy Nucci, a longtime former colleague who took over as student support coordinator at the Umana after McGrane retired said she was always amazed by his upbeat personality and his way with the students.
“He was always upbeat,” said Nucci. “Jim always had something nice to say to every student he saw and always made a point to make a student feel better about themselves. His philosophy was to make sure the students had at least one nice thing happen to them that day.”
Aside from teaching, McGrane, like Marty Pino and Jack Forbes, was a monumental influence on the success of the former East Boston Camps.
“Jim helped my wife Cindy and me tremendously through our lives,” said longtime friend John Forbes. “Jim and his late wife, Pam, had a great relationship and were tremendous parents. We looked up to them and their example really helped us as we were starting our own family. We both had the good fortune of working for Jim at East Boston Camps for many years. He taught us many things such as, to respect others opinions, to treat all with dignity and respect, and of course to have fun. He cared very deeply for his students and East Boston Camp Family. If you knew him you loved him. We will miss him terribly but his legacy will live on through all that he touched.”
Former East Boston Camp Director Debbie White, who met McGrane at the Camps in the mid-1970s said she was at a loss of words and shocked by his passing.
“Jim was a wonderful friend and a wonderful role model and a lot of people will attest to that,” said White. “If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Once you were part of his life you were part of his life forever. He had the ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the world. I will miss that infectious, contagious laugh. He was the one person I can honestly say I’ve never seen in a bad mode…ever! He just had a way of disarming negative situations and was just so committed to the kids in his classroom and at Camp.”
White added that there were many times that campers would have problems with one another and McGrane would never hesitate to drive back down to Eastie from the Westford Camps, meet with the parents, and diffuse the situation.
“He just had that ability to make people feel good, at ease and safe,” said White.
Former City Councilor Sal LaMattina said his path into public service started with his experiences at the East Boston Camps and with mentors like Pino, Forbes and McGrane.
“I have know Jim since I was a camper at the East Boston Camps in Westford,” said LaMattina. “I would later become a camp councilor working under Jim and his wife Pamela at Camp Cielo. For those of us who went to Camp, the people there were like our second family. There’s a special bond that all of have with each other either as a camper or staff and Jim and his late wife were like parents to me and a lot of other kids at Camp. Coming from a single parent household I have always looked up to Jim and Pam, and they have groomed me to be the person I am today. They always treated me as one or their own.”
LaMattina said it was McGrane that influenced him to go to college and further his education.
“He has always looked out for me when I was growing up in East Boston,” said LaMattina. “Some of my camp friends would say I was Jim and Pam’s spoiled child. It was Jim who send me to Aquatic School to become a Water Safety Instructor and Waterfront Director so I could teach kids to swim at the Camps. And because of that I was able to teach swimming at the Harborside and Paris Street pools in our neighborhood which started my career working for the City. I will always cherish the good times I had with the McGranes at the Camps. I will always remember his laugh and his dancing. When his wife Pam passed away he gave me all the letters I had written to them as a student at UMass Amherst. They saved every letter and I was so grateful to them for that.”
James “Jim” McGrane, longtime Eastie educator and mentor, died Saturday in Florida.